Struggling with mental health at work
Anyone can experience mental health issues at any time. These can relate to worries about job performance, a difficult relationship inside or outside the workplace or anxiety about finances, amongst many other causes. The impact of these concerns, if not addressed, can result in stress, anxiety and depression. Suffering from mental health issues can prevent people from focussing and succeeding at work, so it is in the employer’s interests to create an environment in which employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health struggles and seek support in resolving them.
Research consistently shows that, even in an age of society talking so much more about mental health, employees still feel anxious about speaking out on this topic to their boss. Changing this, for the most part, lies with the culture created within a business and the way in which leaders and line managers are encouraged to adopt appropriate strategies to compassionately hear the experiences of their staff.
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Employers’ duty of care
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty of care for the health, safety and welfare of their employees. The latter regulations focus in particular on the requirement for managers to reduce the risk of employees developing stress as a result of their work. Ways of fulfilling this obligation can include:
- Giving employees a say in their workload and how they achieve the required outcomes
- Developing robust policies and practices designed to reduce the risk of bullying and harassment at work
- Provision of regular training for managers on how to prevent bullying and harassment or dealing effectively with complaints of bullying and harassment if they do occur
- Actively creating an open culture that supports employee wellbeing and open communication about mental health.
Mental Health Support at work
No-one expects managers to be experts in mental health issues, but there is a range of resources available to employers for signposting employees to relevant sources of help:
- If you don’t already have one in place, consider setting up an Employee Assistance Programme. This usually includes a confidential helpline available to employees 24/7. Your employees can use the service to discuss worries about finance, relationships, health or anything else that’s causing them concern. Employees can use the service safe in the knowledge that their discussions won’t be disclosed to their employer. Many EAP providers also offer the option of a short programme of free counselling sessions. As well as being a positive resource, an EAP can also go some way towards meeting the employer’s legal duty to ensure employees’ health, safety and welfare, as outlined above.
- Many charities working to support various health conditions provide excellent resources for employers to use. Mind is a national charity specialising in providing information and advice to people with mental health problems. As an employer, you can use the training and advice resources available and signpost employees to the charity’s website.
- You could also consider appointing some of your employees as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) within your organisation. MHFAs complete an accredited training programme, which includes training in active listening. They can provide a point of contact for employees who are suffering from mental health issues, but who don’t want to approach their manager to discuss them.
If an employee discloses that they are suffering from a longer-term mental health condition such as depression, you may want to consider obtaining a report from the person responsible for their medical treatment or proposing a referral to an Occupational Health professional for medical advice on how best to support the employee. If this is the case, if the employee is willing to share their clinician’s advice, they are protected by law from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ where practical, to support the employee in their role. What these adjustments are will vary from one employee to another, so it is important to have open communication on both sides to explore what ‘reasonable’ and practical looks like for both employee and employer.
The more that an organisation can equip managers and employees with the tools and support they need to address mental health issues, the more engaged and productive the employees are likely to be, making time spent on mental health support an excellent investment.